I now have a few projects under my belt that have been 100% remote, including one with an entirely new team that I’d never met before physically. One of the challenges of this environment is recreating the casual bond that’s usually present on high-performing teams. Certainly much of that is forged over hard work, but there’s also a significant component that comes from simple physical activities like a team lunch, or strolling down the hall for coffee or tea with a colleague and finding out a bit more about them. In my industry of consulting, most teams are usually from out of town, so there’s an additional component of shared dinners and hours of shared time outside the office.
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Replicating some of the non-work team building that comes so naturally in the physical world has been a bit of a challenge in a remote working environment. Here are three ideas that I’ve tried with varying degrees of success that may help your remote teams.
Turn on the camera
Perhaps the biggest enabler to remote work is creating a culture of turning on the camera. Yes, it can be initially stressful and frankly mentally exhausting to stare at a grid of faces all day, but it creates significantly more dynamic and effective discussions when you can actually see the other people in the virtual room, and read their expressions. A blank box with someone’s name does nothing to tell you whether that person has a look of confusion on his or her face that might indicate some additional time should be spent on a topic, or a look of boredom or exhaustion that indicates it’s time to wrap up the meeting.
As a leader, set the example, and give your team implicit permission to show up in whatever attire is comfortable, and without fear that they’ll look unprofessional when dogs, children, or housemates make a guest appearance. Simply having your camera on at the beginning of a meeting and saying “Tim, it would be great if we could see you” sets the tone and builds a culture that’s trusting and engaged.
Try some remote fun
It can seem awkward at first, but injecting some fun into your remote teams is fairly easy, and a variety of options are available. At my company, I’ve heard of everything from virtual cocktail parties to game and trivia nights. Some of these longer activities can seem like mandatory fun to your team, so if you’re going to experiment in this area be sure to communicate that these activities are optional and consider holding them during business hours so you’re not creating an implied obligation.
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I’ve been successful injecting simple things like sharing a dad joke or pun during team meetings, or having a team member who is a part-time yoga instructor share some chair yoga. Most of the remote meeting tools like Zoom and Teams have a drawing function that can be used for some lighthearted fun, or even used to annotate a PowerPoint version of a simple game like Tic-Tac-Toe.
Have a remote career coaching session
I used to be active in Rotary, and one of the interesting tools that organization included was having a member share, “How I got where I’m at,” during meetings. This was a 10- to 15-minute speech about their career trajectory, followed by audience questions. I’ve held these types of sessions with my teams, sharing a five-minute version of my career story, and then letting them ask anything they want, from questions about the inner workings of our company, to how and why I made certain career transitions.
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This helps connect the team, and hopefully provides them some insight into how they can advance within the organization or in their careers as a whole. It also allows for some deeper relationship building than a remote game of Pictionary, with a lot fewer logistical challenges.
Trying is the first step
I’ve heard many leaders lament the difficulty of fostering and maintaining connections with their teams in a remote working environment. However, when asked how they’re addressing these challenges they’ll shrug and throw up their hands. While you can’t replicate acts that were once taken for granted like having lunch with a colleague, you can easily experiment with different variations of the above to find what works for you and helps build effective and trusting teams in a remote environment.